Many readers believe that the Boeing 737 MAX should never fly again. I disagree. I believe that while there were design flaws, those have been addressed, and regulators are inherently conservative and so it’s likely taking longer than it should to allow the plane to operate commercial flights. I will fly the aircraft again, and you will probably will too.
- Aviation accidents almost never have a single cause. Lion Air installed a faulty angle of attack sensor into its 737 MAX that crashed. Crew the day before the crash experienced similar issues with the aircraft, but handled the issue differently. The experience wasn’t written up properly. Different pilots, without the information from the day before, weren’t able to overcome a flight situation created by a combination of a faulty part and a MAX design flaw. Ethiopian crew disengaged MCAS but left the plane at full takeoff power which magnified challenges recovering control of the aircraft.
- Relying on a single angle of attack sensor to trigger the MCAS flight law shouldn’t have been acceptable. There were mistakes made in designing the aircraft that shouldn’t have gotten signoff at Boeing, and shouldn’t have been ok with the FAA either (self-certification though is not to blame). Yet the MAX was safe compared to other modes of transport even with its design flaws. Those have received tremendous scrutiny and appear to have been resolved.
- Regulators are inherently conservative. No one wants to be blamed if the plane is re-certified and something bad happens, no matter how unlikely that is. Evenually there will be another incident somewhere in the world with an Airbus jet, and there will be an incident with a Boeing jet also. No one wants to have signed off on the return of the MAX if that Boeing incident is with one of those aircraft even if it’s unrelated to issues raised after the Lion Air and Ethiopian crashes.
- The Boeing 737 MAX will fly again. Airbus can’t ramp up narrowbody production quickly enough. The known harm to Boeing’s business has already been largely capitalized into its stock. Absent any new negative information they face greater risk from the global economy reducing demand for aircraft than from the 737 MAX.
- When the MAX comes back into service some people will briefly avoid it. There will be a rash of stories ‘is it safe?’ and ‘here’s how to know if you’re scheduled to fly on a MAX’. Those will die down, and as long as the plane continues to fly safely concern over the aircraft will subside. Remember all the people who swore they’d never fly United again after David Dao was dragged off a regional jet?
- Even if you say you won’t fly the MAX again, I bet that you will. The bar for this plane to fly is higher than any other aircraft in the world, and once it’s flying it will have exceeded that bar. About 5000 of them have been ordered. American, United, Southwest and Air Canada all have MAX aircraft in their fleet. Once the plane flies again, and does so safely, it will become ubiquitous in aviation – and we’ll all wind up flying the aircraft.
The MAX is ready to fly at this point. When do you think regulators in the U.S. will sign off? And how long will it take other countries to follow suit once they do?